U.S. TV networks leaving Iraq
By Brian Stelter Published: December 29, 2008
NEW YORK: Quietly, as the U.S. presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, three American broadcast networks - CBS, NBC and ABC - have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq.
At the same time, the major U.S. television networks have been trying to add newspeople in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with expectations that the administration of Barack Obama will focus on the conflict there.
In short, the story, certainly on television, is shifting to Afghanistan. CNN now has a reporter assigned to the country at all times.
Michael Yon, an independent reporter who relies on contributions from Internet users to report from both areas of conflict, has already perceived a shift in both media and reader attention from Iraq to Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan was the forgotten war; that's what they were calling it, actually," he said. "Now it's swapping places with Iraq."
The staff cuts appear to be the latest evidence of budget pressures at the networks. And those pressures are not unique to television: Many newspapers and magazines have also curtailed their presence in Baghdad. As a consequence, the war is gradually fading from television screens, newspapers and, some worry, the consciousness of the American public.
For Yon and others who continue to cover Iraq, the cutbacks are a disheartening reminder of the war's diminishing profile at a time when about 130,000 U.S. service members remain on duty there - as opposed to 30,000 in Afghanistan. More than 4,200 Americans and many more thousands of Iraqis have died in fighting there since 2003.
ABC, CBS and NBC declined to speak on the record about their news coverage decisions. But representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics.
In Baghdad, ABC, CBS and NBC still maintain skeleton bureaus in heavily fortified compounds. Correspondents rotate in and out when stories warrant.
But employees who are familiar with the staffing pressures of the networks say the bureaus are a shadow of what they used to be. Some of the offices have only one Western staff member.
The TV networks have talked about sharing some resources in Iraq, although similar discussions have stalled in the past because of concerns about editorial independence. Parisa Khosravi, CNN's senior vice president for international news gathering, said such talks among the networks were not currently under way.
But journalists in Iraq expect further cooperative agreements and other pooling of resources in the months ahead.
ABC and the British Broadcasting Corp, longtime partners on polling in Iraq, may consolidate some back office operations early in 2009, two people with knowledge of the talks said. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to talk about the plans.
As the war claims fewer American lives, Iraq is fading from TV screens. The three network evening newscasts devoted 423 minutes to Iraq this year as of Dec. 19, compared with 1,888 minutes in 2007, said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant.
"But clearly, viewers' appetite for stories from Iraq waned when it turned from all-out battle into something equally important but more difficult to describe and cover," said Jane Arraf, a former Baghdad bureau chief for CNN who has remained in Iraq as a contract reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. She recalled hearing one of her TV editors say, "I don't want to see the same old pictures of soldiers kicking down doors."
"You can imagine how much more tedious it would be to watch soldiers running meetings on irrigation," she said.
It is an expensive and dangerous operation to run at a time of diminishing resources and audience interest.
"Some news organizations just cannot afford to be there," said Yon, the independent reporter. "And the ones who can are starting to shift resources over to Afghanistan."
CNN and the Fox News Channel, both cable news channels with 24 hours to fill, each keep one correspondent in Iraq. Among newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post continue to assign multiple reporters to the country. The Associated Press and Reuters also have significant operations in Iraq.
Stories from Iraq that are strongly visual - as when an Iraqi journalist threw two shoes at President George W. Bush this month - are still covered by the networks, though often with footage from freelance crews and video agencies.
"But these other stories - ones that require knowledge of Iraq, like the political struggles that are going on - are going uncovered," said Joseph Angotti, a former vice president of NBC News.
CLICK TITLE LINK FOR FULL ARTICLE